Recent government discussions in Ontario about future energy supplies have indicated a significant interest in building new nuclear power plants. Ontario has a growing power demand due to an increasing population, but it also has a strong desire to eliminate the need to burn coal to supply that power.
In the past, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL), a Crown corporation that has built all 22 existing Canadian nuclear reactors, could count on Canadian customers to choose them to supply any reactors that they order. Now, however, it appears that Ontario is at least considering the possibility of inviting additional reactor vendors to bid on any new projects.
In response, a number of suppliers that provide parts for the new Advanced CANDU (ACR) have joined together to form “Team CANDU” that will share the construction investment risk with Ontario. The goal is to provide a more competitive alternative power plant project to try to keep vendors like GE, Westinghouse or Areva from entering and potentially dominating the Canadian nuclear power industry.
I like the idea of private companies who have confidence in the designs that they have been working on for many years stepping up and claiming some of the investment risk. They are in the best position to determine if the machines that they propose can be built on time and within budget, so they should be the ones to shoulder the risk.
Taxpayers will benefit by the fact that these companies have the correct incentives to do their job correctly. Shareholders will benefit by the increased revenue that will be possible by self-financed plants. Workers in the industry will benefit by learning to produce competitive products. Customers will benefit because they will have a lower cost energy alternative that does not pollute their air. Sounds like a lot of wins to me.
Perhaps after success in Canada, there will be room for ACR’s as part of the mix of reactors in the US, allowing the use of the Dupic fuel cycle to consume part of our used nuclear fuel. Until recently, Dominion Resources, for example had expressed some interest in building an ACR in the US, but changed that plan when the NRC made it pretty clear that the plant would require very long and expensive review before being granted a US operating license.
Alternatively, US nuclear plant operators to work on ways to convince the US government, the Canadian government and Canadian plant operators to consume some used PWR fuel as the input fuel for a CANDU in Canada. So far, there has not been much interest in cross border trade in this growing resource, though that may also change someday. I am ever hopeful that sense will invade the energy industry, though it might take longer than I would like.